VTR officials hope deal will keep museum in Mound

Published 12:45 am Saturday, September 15, 2012

With the grand opening of the Southern Heritage Air Foundation Museum at the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport about two months away, airport officials hope an agreement with the owner of the hangar housing the museum will keep it in Mound.

The airport’s board of directors this week approved an agreement with Vicksburg business owner and foundation president Dan Fordice, who owns the hangar, that allows the airport to buy the hangar and keep the museum. Currently, Fordice owns the hangar and is leasing ground space from the airport for $15,060 a year, or about $1,255 a month.

Under the terms of the agreement, Fordice will donate the hangar to the airport and lease it back for $1 a year. In return, the airport’s owners — Vicksburg, Warren County, Tallulah and Madison Parish — will each pay Fordice about $3,667 a year over 30 years to pay for the hangar’s $440,000 appraised value.

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Airport board chairman Benny Terrell of Vicksburg said the board is awaiting approval from the owners. The board is comprised of one representative from each of the owners and a member selected jointly by Madison Parish and Warren County.

“I have talked with all four of the owners, and they are in agreement with it,” Terrell said. “But they need to get the approval from their respective boards. I expect to hear from them next week.”

The Southern Heritage Air Foundation owns five airplanes, aviation artifacts and aircraft models that are housed in the hangar. Currently, tours are by appointment only, Admission is $8 per person. The museum had been scheduled to open today, but Fordice said Friday the grand opening has been pushed to Nov. 10.

After the grand opening, the museum will be open to the public and offer flights in vintage airplanes for fees.

Fordice said the John Bell Williams Airport in Raymond, which is owned by Hinds Community College, has offered him free space to move the museum to Raymond, but he said he wanted to keep the museum at VTR. He said he approached the airport board about the hangar.

“I live here and work here,” he said. “Certainly this is a very valuable attraction and I want to keep it here, but I have to do what I can afford. The board agreed to it and the Louisiana Department of Transportation approved it.”

Terrell said museum has attracted visitors from across the country, adding that it has made the foundation the airport’s second highest purchaser of fuel.

“We went back and checked our records,” he said. “Last year Dan spent $29,000 on fuel for the vintage plane and his personal plane. That’s an average of 6,000 gallons a month. Last week, there was a fly-in to the museum with planes from as far away as Kansas, and they bought fuel here to fly back.”

Terrell said fuel sales at the Mound airport represent about 80 percent of the operating budget at the airport, which is used most frequently by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fordice and transient fliers who land for fuel during flights.

The museum’s opening, Terrell said, is expected to increase the fly-ins and provide an accompanying increase in fuel sales, adding the foundation is considering purchasing a World II-era B-25 Mitchell bomber.

“That plane uses a lot of fuel,” he said. “If they get that and use it, it will really boost fuel sales.”

“The museum is definitely an asset,” said Gary Estes, who represents Warren County on the airport board. “It will attract a lot of people. It’s a matter of spending a little now and getting a whole lot back later.”